Top Chef Kitchen: Paul Qui and Tiffany Derry


Thanks to my good friend Jesse and his quick-click ability with online reservations, Hubby and I were able to taste the dishes of Top Chef-testants Paul Qui and Tiffany Derry (seasons 9 and 7 respectively), rather than just watching them on TV.

The short but sweet verdict? Absolutely worth the $95 per plate to eat and meet.  Both  chefs were gracious and super-friendly.

Highlights: Tiffany’s pork belly, Paul’s soubise, Paul’s madras curry, Tiffany’s banana pudding


Crispy and delicious appetizer flatbreads


Classic mojito with aged rum, mint, sugar, and bitters (the red on top)
[Nice flavor… I thought it looked like a chunky granita.]

Notes: Paul’s menu concept was a deconstructed chicken soup.  The first course was onion, the second course highlighted celery, and the third course centered on chicken.  The onion dish (below) was a major highlight of the evening.  With a beautiful visual asethetic and bold flavors, Chef Paul balanced sweet, salty, and savory notes.


Paul’s 1st course (“Onion”)
Soubise (remember that finale-winning dish?), onion chip, juniper, white pepper, clove, crispy chicken skin

Tiffany’s trout was tender, sweet, and flaky with a crispy skin that my husband positively grilled her about.  I asked Tiffany which chef was the most intimidating to cook for.  “Eric Ripert,” she quipped without missing a beat, reminiscing with pride over how he had said that her fish was “perfectly cooked.”  Perfectly cooked, indeed.


Tiffany’s 2nd Course (Crispy Ruby Red Trout)
with cannellini bean ragout and charred onions

Paul’s celery course was incredibly aromatic with celery as both a chip and a puree.  The Madras curry was insanely good– a perfect blend of warm, savory, and spicy.  It smelled and tasted, simultaneously (and paradoxically), both like home and like somewhere exotic.  Brilliant.


Paul’s 2nd Course (Poached Chicken Wings)
with celery root puree, coconut, and Madras curry

Tiffany’s pork belly, house-made sausage, and abso-freakin-lutely perfect grits were our favorite of the night (although Paul’s soubise and curry were also amazing).  This was down-home, perfect, comfort food that I would probably put on my Top Ten list.  Crispy pig ears? Come on!!!


Tiffany’s 3rd Course (Pork Belly)
with house-made sausage, crispy pig ears, yellow grit, and pickled sprouts

Paul’s entree was deliciously juicy chicken with a carrot focus: fluffy carrot “cake,” julienne-like carrot slices, and carrot puree.


Tiffany’s family recipe banana pudding… another highlight.


Tiffany’s Dessert (Southern Banana Pudding)
with caramelized bananas, vanilla bean custard, and pecan

Paul’s dessert was not super-sweet.  Buttermilk sorbet sat atop crushed pecans and was served with a brioche soaked for two days in milk and then bruleed.  The sliced grapes were juuuuust the right temperature- cold, almost frozen, but not quite.


Paul’s Dessert (Buttermilk Sorbet)
with thyme, rosemary gastrique, bay leaf salt, peppercorn, and grapes

Both Paul and Tiffany seemed genuinely happy to be there.  Tiffany graciously answered all of our questions, including my Top Chef favorite question: “What don’t people know about the show from watching television?”  Her answer: “You’re in that stew room for hours.  They leave you there with, like, crackers and wine.”  Apparently, during her season, Padma was nursing, and she would leave the set for hours, interrupting already long deliberation while the Judges’ Panel hashed things out until late in the night.  That definitely explains some of the show’s hot-tempered outbursts and emotional meltdowns.


Jen with Chef Tiffany Derry


Paul was also super-cool and friendly.  After some food small talk, we mentioned wanting to go to DC’s Mini-Bar.  “Oh yeah, definitely.  I know some guys down there,” he said, telling us who to ask for.  “Tell them you’re friends with Paul.”  His warmth was genuine, and he spoke to us as if we were old friends.

He also told us about how life had changed for him since winning Top Chef, how he’d used his winnings to travel and dine finely in Michelin-starred restaurants (“investing in” himself), and how he’d spent 80 Euro on roast chicken.

When asked if having a kitchen staff make his dishes was relaxing or unnerving, he insisted, “Well, I’m still pretty hands-on.”  And he was.  Paul was in the open air kitchen quite a bit: instructing, guiding, plating.  We had to do a little light stalking at the end of the night to snap a photo, but Paul was gracious about that too.  “Sorry, guys,” he said sheepishly, “I got a little busy in the kitchen.  I’m really kind-of shy, so I tend to hide out in the kitchen.”
Shy? Maybe.  Talented? Definitely.


Jen with Chef Paul Qui


It was a real pleasure for us to meet both Paul and Tiffany.  Their talents were obvious, and they were both truly nice people to boot.  We were lucky to have scored this Big Apple opportunity before they had to… you know, pack their knives and go.

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